A new career path leads one Concordia alumnus to his calling
Having worked for years as a technical writer and trainer for a telecommunications company, Michael McCurdy found himself reassessing his career when the company decided to downsize. Luckily for countless students in the North Kitsap School District, which is on the north end of the Kitsap peninsula in western Washington State, McCurdy decided to change gears and pursue his interest in teaching – and a master of arts in teaching degree from Concordia University.
The year 2003 proved to be a life-changing one for McCurdy. His son Miles was born, and the changes at his workplace meant rethinking his career path. Realizing how much he liked to design instruction, how much he enjoyed teaching, and – thanks to his son – how interested he was in what and how children learn, McCurdy began investigating what it would take to become a certified teacher. Concordia’s MAT program seemed like it would be a great fit.
And a great fit it was! Not only did McCurdy find camaraderie in his tight-knit cohort (many of whom still keep in touch on social media), but he also got the support he needed from professors who were committed to his success. “The positive atmosphere, encouragement, and guidance I received there really started me off on the right path. During that year, just before my graduation, my mother passed away from cancer. Being surrounded by a supportive cohort and understanding instructors helped me immensely during this time.”
Beyond the emotional support, McCurdy received the education and training he needed at Concordia to feel confident in the classroom. “The real-life teaching experiences I encountered during my practicum really allowed me to enter the profession with a clear understanding of the rewarding and challenging professional journey I was embarking on. I was matched up to do my student teaching with two excellent teachers that really inspired and encouraged me along the way.”
Being many things
McCurdy lives and works in the Puget Sound area, a particularly scenic and serene part of the Pacific Northwest. Beyond the abundance of natural beauty, his district has the unique distinction of being the only one in America that includes two different Native American tribes – Suquamish and Port Gamble S’Klallam – within its boundaries. “I love being able to celebrate the diverse and ancient cultural aspects of this area. Being a teacher in a small town, you see people you know everywhere you go, and the community has a deep respect for those of us working with their kids on a daily basis.”
His years of teaching music at Wolfle Elementary School have taught McCurdy “that you need to meet kids where they are and inspire their learning from there. Being honest and genuine with them is a must as kids see right through any adults trying to educate their minds, without also acknowledging their hearts.” Wolfle Elementary is also a high-poverty school, and many students come to the school with myriad challenges that often have nothing to do with academics but must be addressed if any learning is to take place. In such a setting, McCurdy explains, “a teacher often has to be many things besides just a teacher.”
A rewarding career
This year has been another big year for McCurdy. He turned 50, celebrated his tenth year of teaching and, in March, accompanied his fifth-grade music students to Seattle to hear the Seattle Symphony perform the “Wolfle Symphony” – the kids’ collaborative composition that won this year’s Link Up competition (see the video below). “Having the Seattle Symphony play our piece, written by fourth and fifth graders, was certainly a highlight! It happened when I got out of the way and took a chance at letting the kids take the ball and run with it.”
Further affirmation came from the Kitsap County chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, an international society of women educators. McCurdy is the latest recipient of their Outstanding Educator award. “That was very special to me and gave me confidence that I was doing the right things for kids. Then when I was told I would be receiving the district’s Elementary Teacher of the Year award, it felt like winning the triple crown! It’s still kind of unbelievable to me that all this happened in one year. But now I feel some validation that I can do this really difficult job that doesn’t pay incredibly well and which fewer and fewer people are willing to do. I have a deep sense of satisfaction in my job that comes from knowing it is one of the most important jobs there is.”
Words to live – and teach – by
McCurdy was drawn to Concordia and the teaching profession for their shared focus on service. “Teaching is about paying forward a love of learning that really might be the only thing that can truly transform the world. So many professions are about “getting” and teaching is certainly more about “giving.” Our principal has a wonderful saying that I think about often in regards to my career as a teacher: ‘You don’t need to be the best in the world, but you can always strive to be the best for the world’.”
His best advice for future teachers? Fail. “Failure is the best teacher and a person’s response to it dictates the lessons they will learn, or keep not learning over and over, for the rest of their lives. Fear of failure has kept me from success far more than actual failure has. Once you let go of your fear of failing, a whole world of possibilities opens up.”
McCurdy pushes his students to believe in themselves and not to give up. “I’m convinced that the secret is, there really is no secret. Creating something beautiful (like a symphony or a painting or a great story) is very difficult, but it is in the process of meeting difficult challenges where you find out who you are and what you are capable of.”